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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Carnell "Cadillac" Williams immediately transformed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ running game last year with a rapid start that easily rivals his famous nickname’s acceleration.
The former Auburn star runner gained 434 yards in his first three games last season to establish an NFL rookie record.
“Cadillac speaks for itself, drives very well, drive it all day long,” said Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, who will face off with Williams on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. "You definitely have to respect him."
The 2005 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year closed out the Buccaneers’ win against the Minnesota Vikings with a 71-yard touchdown jaunt. In finishing the season with 1,178 yards, he rushed for 100 yards or more six times. Not coincidentally, Tampa Bay won all six behind his dynamic running style.
“He has the ability to pop one out of the tackle, explode,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “He’s a very impressive guy.”
The Ravens don’t suffer 100-yard rushers gladly, or very often. Only Thomas Jones, Greg Jones, Rudi Johnson and Domanick Davis eclipsed the century mark against Baltimore last season.
“Physical cures everything,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “If a back is fast, be physical. If a back is physical, be more physical than him. When you know there’s a price to pay and you’re going to get hit every play, it gets under your skin. That’s how we play.”
Williams missed two games last season with a foot injury, but still managed to score six touchdowns.
The Ravens have only allowed 55 rushing touchdowns since 2000, tops in the AFC and second in the NFL during that period to the Buccaneers.
“I think the difference is that I know what to expect now,” Williams told Florida reporters this week. “Last year, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I’m sure some folks will be game-planning for me.”
That’s an accurate depiction of the situation. The Ravens, who held opposing running backs under 65 yards eight times and finished ninth against the run by allowing 99.4 rushing yards per game, appear intent on putting up a road block against Williams.
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis even said the Ravens might be missing the bigger picture if they concentrate too much on trying to exploit young quarterback Chris Simms.
“I think he’s a very determined young man,” Lewis said of Williams. “He’s got great vision and he’s a tough young man as well. He runs the ball really hard. He’s a great young back to watch.”
TRAINING ROOM: The Ravens upgraded running back Jamal Lewis (strained left hip flexor) from questionable to probable along with wide receiver Derrick Mason (thigh) and cornerback Chris McAlister (thigh). All three practiced.
The Ravens downgraded rookie running back P.J. Daniels from questionable to doubtful, holding him out of practice.
If Lewis, who was granted the final two weeks of the preseason off to recuperate, is limited his primary backup will be Musa Smith, who has leapfrogged veteran Mike Anderson.
Meanwhile, backup defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin (thigh) remains questionable. Kicker Matt Stover (back) was a late probable addition, but it’s regarded as a precautionary measure.
"Everybody is fine," Billick said. "I’m just trying to follow the rules."
HEAT IS ON: Mindful of the increased heat his team will endure in Florida, Billick has already put his reserves on notice that they won’t merely be warming the bench.
“The whole 45-man roster is going to play in a game like that,” Billick said. “You can’t go 65 plays in heat like that and not have it affect you. For the backup guys, that’s what we’re stressing: ‘You’d better be ready to play.’”
QUICK HITS: Tampa Bay middle linebacker Shelton Quarles practiced Friday after missing 10 days with a sore groin. Afterward, he pronounced himself fit to play. Left guard Dan Buenning remains questionable with an ankle sprain and Jeb Terry will start at right guard in place of injured first-round draft pick Davin Joseph. Sean Mahan will play left guard if Buenning can’t go. … A round of laughter and applause rang out from the Ravens’ huddle at the end of practice. The occasion? German native Samuel Gutekunst, an offensive tackle on the Ravens’ practice squad through an international developmental program, received his World Bowl championship ring from his stint with the Frankfurt Galaxy. “They kind of got fired up for Sam that he got to get rewarded,” Billick said. “Hopefully, it’s the first of another championship.” … Jon Gruden is 2-2 in season openers with Tampa Bay. .. The Ravens topped 17 points only four times last year during a 6-10 campaign. … The Buccaneers have produced at least one turnover in 82 of their last 89 games.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times.